Friday Rant: Does Objectivity Exist?

I recently had the chance to reconnect with an old industry colleague who knows as much about the inner workings of the influence sphere in the Spend Management world as anyone. He told me a story that is one I've heard countless times in the sector. To wit, an important influencer, one who works for a well-established firm, had not covered his company with any frequency or depth. Moreover, on inquiry calls, it got back to the vendor that the analyst tried to dismiss them as not important because the firm had not taken a close look at them.

But all of this changed when his company hired this firm in a traditional type of engagement that one typically hires an influencer to do. Then everything began to get better for them. They were featured in this firm's written analysis. Reference calls started to go much better. They're even hopeful for leads to come directly out of the relationship. In short: a commercial relationship made a night and day difference in how this influencer represented their knowledge of the vendor, whom they recommended them too and their willingness to be a supporter behind the scenes.

If this sounds like a broken record, it is. It's about the fourth time I've heard this story involving the same influential firm in question. And I've even mentioned the story before on Spend Matters (funny, how history repeats itself). Granted, it's not "pay to play" in the same way as hiring someone to write a whitepaper that says excellent things about a provider ala the old Aberdeen model. But it's almost more nefarious because the model this firm purports to pursue is supposedly incorruptible. Go figure

But my rant today is not just about whether the establishment is corruptible. It's about whether individual bloggers are less or more corruptible. And most important, whether both our perceived and actual objectivity is any better. In the case of Spend Matters, I hope it is. But I'll be totally candid -- sponsors or advertisers can, indirectly, put you in an awkward position, albeit in the opposite way than you might think. What's an example? I've often found myself editing down praise when writing about those whom I've had a commercial relationship with specifically because I don't want the existence of that relationship to have any impact on what I say. It's almost like a built in safety valve to avoid any resemblance to pay-to-play in the back of my head. The good news is that since I've worked with dozens of companies in the sector, most of those I write about fall into this camp, except young start-ups.

Ironically, I couldn't care less about how it looks externally because my view is my view. But when it comes down to how I express my analysis, I personally feel the need to be extra careful about coming off too bullish just in case someone I know commercially might have an unfair level of access (which I would hope is never the case, but you can't be too careful). Bearish, on the other hand, is fine, for those I know and work with as well as those I don't.

So my question for the crowd is simple: does objectivity exist? Does it exist more or less in the blogosphere than in the traditional media, consultant and analyst world? I'm not sure. But I can tell you that this blogger takes not only the perception -- which is less important -- but also the actual reality of objectivity very seriously in both what I write and what I say.

- Jason Busch

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